Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Angie Craig (D-MN)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), John Thune (R-SD), and Mike Rounds (R-SD), members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and U.S. Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Angie Craig (D-MN), members of the House Agriculture Committee, introduced companion bills to improve the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ability to grant authorization for emergency haying of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land in response to drought and other weather-related disaster events. 

Under current statute, emergency CRP haying is not allowed until after the primary nesting season, which ends August 1 in Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota. The CRP Flexibility Act would address this by allowing emergency haying on CRP acres before August 1 when certain conditions are met and in consultation with the state technical committee.

“The drought across the upper Midwest has created incredibly difficult conditions for Minnesota’s farmers and livestock producers,” said Klobuchar. “By authorizing emergency haying of Conservation Reserve Program lands, we are taking an important step to help farmers and ranchers feed their herds throughout droughts.”

“Right now over 70 percent of Minnesota is experiencing a severe drought and it's quickly worsening with the current hot weather,” said Smith. “This is devastating for our cattle producers, who are running out of hay to feed their herds. When severe droughts hit, the USDA should have the tools to allow farmers to access reserve land for haying and grazing. This will lessen the impact on the farm economy.”

“Unfortunately, almost every acre of South Dakota is currently experiencing drought, and we need to make sure USDA has the flexibility to improve producers’ access to greatly needed forage for their livestock during these difficult times,” said Thune. “As a longtime supporter of the Conservation Reserve Program, I’m pleased to introduce this commonsense measure to help producers meet their forage needs during weather-related emergencies. This legislation would build on my effort to increase CRP enrollment, which significantly benefits conservation efforts and wildlife habitat in our state.”

“With most of the state facing an intense drought, South Dakota ranchers and farmers need flexibility to protect their livelihoods and combat the extreme conditions,” said Rounds. “Our bill alleviates these challenges by allowing emergency haying during the primary nesting season, which lasts until August 1st. This is a commonsense fix that will provide much-needed relief for South Dakota farmers and ranchers.”

“Severe drought conditions in Minnesota and across the country are impacting farmers and ranchers who were just beginning to recover from the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis,” said Craig. “Today, I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation to ensure USDA can create flexibility for farmers and ranchers, expand drought relief and protect our ag community during this difficult time.”

“As drought conditions fail to improve across the Midwest, producers need continued flexibility to weather the storm and avoid further liquidations,” said Johnson. “The CRP Flexibility Act would open up needed conservation acres to forage for livestock. This is a problem with a simple solution – I’m glad our legislation will promote conservation and provide flexibility to the committee on the ground to move up forage dates when disaster strikes.”

The introduction of this legislation follows a letter sent by Klobuchar, Smith, Craig and Representatives Michelle Fischbach (R-MN), Pete Stauber (R-MN), Tom Emmer (R-MN) and Jim Hagedorn (R-MN) asking USDA to consider authorizing emergency haying and grazing of CRP land to aid livestock producers in areas affected by the ongoing drought.

The CRP Flexibility Act is co-sponsored by Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Representatives Tom Emmer (R-MN), Michelle Fischbach (R-MN), Jim Hagedorn (R-MN), Pete Stauber (R-MN), and Kelly Armstrong (N-ND).